Thursday, November 15, 2007

Robert Manne Kisses John Howard Goodbye

There's already been a few John Howard eulogies published, but this one from Robert Manne, published today in the latest issue of The Monthly, will set the standard for the so-called "Lefties" that many on the Liberal side of politics and commentary are expecting to dance all over Howard's political grave. They're probably going to be bitterly disappointed.

Manne's comments are mostly respectful, honest and throws some early perspective on The Howard legacy. I'd certainly agree with Manne that the darker days of Howard's reign will shock future generations, while his success as a steady hand on the economic tiller will mostly be forgotten. That happens with all prime ministers and presidents. Howard will be no exception.

Howard was right to stare down many conservative Australians to bring about effective gun control. It is hard to believe that the absence of urban massacre since Port Arthur is an accident. Despite very serious intelligence and political error in the lead-up to the East Timor independence plebiscite, the role his Government played in the creation of an independent East Timor represents Howard's finest hour.

The greatest mistake in the first half of the Howard years was the attack he launched against what American neo-conservatives had labelled political correctness. The country's racist past was increasingly denied. The ambitions for reconciliation with the indigenous population and for the creation of a multicultural society were abandoned. The bitterness of so many indigenous people and the daily experience of marginalisation faced by Australian Muslims are the consequences.

The Keating government bequeathed to Howard a dangerous legacy in the policy of mandatory detention of asylum-seekers.

After losing East Timor, Indonesia secretly encouraged boats of asylum-seekers fleeing from the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban to sail on to Australian territory. The cruelty with which the Howard Government treated these people will astonish Australians in the future

... Our support for the invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy decision ever made by any Australian government.

Manne also writes that "Only when (the Rudd era) opens will the meaning of the Howard years become clear."

A growing number of commenters on the blogs of Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and various opinionists for The Australian are gloating loudly about how the careers of conservative commentators will be over once Rudd wins and Howard is gone.

Hardly. The Akermans, Bolts and Tim Blairs will thrive on the change of government, as Rudd moves to implement his new policies and some will inevitably fail, or fail to live up to the hype. But how long will their readers put up with "I told you so!" and "Lookit what they done now!" as insightful commentary?

The fans of a losing cricket or football team of the final test or grand final don't mind getting together after a horror defeat to drown their sorrows, complain about the refs or rip to shreds the players who they know were capable of better. But even the most die-hard supporters only want to do that once or twice. They don't keep getting together to bitch about the defeat. They mostly move on, and look forward to the next season.

If a Rudd government manages to shake off the darkest days of the Howard era, and injects Australian society with new energy and optimism, the bitterness, endless whining and sniping of the Akermans, Bolts, Shanahans and Blairs will lose them a fat chunk of their audience. They risk becoming what they so despise today : the kind of commentators who can't stop complaining and fail to see the nation as it is, and the positive ways a federal government can change the nation for the better.